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Alexander v. Richter

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

November 22, 2017

DR. JAMES RICHTER, et al. Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER


         Pro se plaintiff Michael Alexander has been granted leave to proceed against two defendants, Dr. James Richter and Meredith Mashak, under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, on his Eighth Amendment claim for the delays he experienced in receiving eye care at the Columbia Correctional Institution (“CCI”). Now before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment (dkts. #38, #48), as well as several motions filed by Alexander. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions will be granted and plaintiff's motions will be denied.


         A. Background

         Alexander is currently incarcerated at CCI in Portage, Wisconsin. Dr. James Richter, is a licensed optometrist and corporate officer for Richter Professional Services, S.C., while Meredith Mashak, is the supervisor of CCI's Health Services Unit (“HSU”).

         During the relevant time period, Dr. Richter was the manager of CCI's optical department, and in this role, he hired all optometrists and arranges their schedules at CCI. However, he has no duties that entail his being regularly on-site at CCI, nor does he control how frequently another eye doctor visits CCI. According to both Richter and Mashak, who is on-site at CCI, the DOC Bureau of health Services Medical Director controls the frequency of visits, and CCI HSU staff are responsible for scheduling eye appointments and coordinates the frequency of optometrist visits at CCI per month.

         Nevertheless, Dr. Richter does visit CCI to see inmates very infrequently -- about one or two times a year -- although that only happens when CCI requests an optometrist and no one else is available because of scheduling conflicts. Moreover, CCI only contacts Richter directly when its staff has already been unsuccessful finding coverage through other Richter Professional Services optometrists. When any optometrist from Richter Professional Services visits CCI, he or she receives a list of inmates to be seen that day, but usually does not know what inmates are on the list before arriving.

         Generally, inmates request eye appointments by submitting a Health Service Request (“HSR”) with CCI's HSU, which determines the level of urgency related to the request and refers it for scheduling. In 2015, the two nurses that handled scheduling at CCI were Rachel Pafford and Ms. Felton. As the HSU supervisor, Mashak was not involved in reviewing those requests or scheduling appointments. Indeed, the only time that she reviewed this optical schedule was when she was contacted about it.

         As optometrists are not generally on site in CCI's HSU, inmates are placed on a waiting list, to be seen when an optometrist is present. Mashak did not know exactly how often optometrists came to CCI, but she testified that two doctors came at least twice a month. From January through April 2015, optometric services were available at CCI on thirteen different days: three times in January, February and March, and four times in April. The amount of time an inmate must actually wait for his eye appointment at CCI depends on the doctors' work schedules, the length of each appointment and the seriousness of the inmate's condition.

         B. Alexander's Eye Appointments

         On January 8, 2015, Alexander submitted a written request with HSU for an evaluation by an eye doctor. At that time, he wrote that his two-year check-up was due and he needed a stronger prescription. Nurse Pafford responded that an appointment was scheduled. However, after hearing nothing more, Alexander submitted another request on February 23, 2015, to see an eye doctor, stating: “I requested over a month ago to be seen by the eye doctor, this is my two year appointment could you have the eye doctor call me?” (Dkt. #2-1, at 13.) On February 26, 2015, Nurse Felton responded: “you are on the list to see optical currently a 5 month wait.” (Id.) Alexander then submitted another request on March 5, 2015, this time stating, “when I read[, ] I get headaches very bad ones[. M]y eyes do not focus as fast as they use[d] to and sometimes I see white spots. I need to see an eye doctor.” (Dkt. #2-1, at 14.) The next day, Pafford again replied: “appointment scheduled.” Apparently hearing nothing for yet another month, Alexander submitted a request slip on April 5, 2015. in which he requested an eye doctor, and he explained that: his headaches were getting worse; his eyes water when he tries to focus them; and he sees spots.

         Nurse Pafford responded to this request on April 7, 2015, stating simply that he had an appointment “soon.” On April 23, 2015, Dr. Ruder from Richter Professional Services, examined Alexander. Dr. Ruder noted that Alexander's specific eye complaint was an increase in migraines after reading, and prescribed Alexander glasses for reading only, specifically .50/-.50/50 for his right eye, and .75/SPH for his left eye. Dr. Ruder also determined that Alexander's vision at that point was actually better than any previous prescription. (Richter decl. Ex. D. (dkt. 41-4) at 12-14.) According to Dr. Ruder's notes, Alexander's change in prescription was a response to his inconsistent use of the glasses against the previous advice of optometrists.

         On May 1, 2015, Alexander submitted another information request form. This time, he complained about headaches and eye pain because he had to wait for his eye appointment. On May 11, 2015, the HSU supervisor, defendant Mashak, responded that CCI has two, part-time optical doctors who come to CCI at least two days a month, sometimes three. (Dkt. #2-1, at 15.) Alexander received new glasses on May 4, 2015.


         I. Summary Judgment Motion

         Plaintiff claims that the delay he experienced before his April appointment resulted in headaches that became migraines. On that basis, as well as the allegation that the delay resulted in plaintiff injuring his eyes, the court permitted him to proceed on claims that Dr. Richter and Mashak violated his Eighth Amendment rights in failing to ensure that an eye doctor evaluated him in a timely fashion.

         A prison official may violate the Eighth Amendment if the official is “deliberately indifferent” to a “serious medical need.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). “Serious medical needs” include (1) conditions that are life-threatening or that carry risk of permanent serious impairment if left untreated, (2) withholding of medical care that results in needless pain and suffering, or (3) conditions that have been “diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment.” Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1371 (7th Cir. 1997). “Deliberate indifference” means that the officials are aware that the prisoner needs medical treatment, but are disregarding the risk by consciously failing to take reasonable measures. Forbes v. Edgar, 112 F.3d 262, 266 (7th Cir. 1997). Allegations of delayed care, even a delay of just a few days, may violate the Eighth Amendment if the delay caused the inmate's condition to worsen or unnecessarily prolonged his pain. McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[T]he length of delay that is tolerable depends on the seriousness of the condition and the ease of providing treatment.”) (citations omitted); Smith v. Knox County Jail, 666 F.3d 1037, 1039-40 (7th Cir. 2012); Gonzalez v. Feinerman, 663 F.3d 311, 314 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Under this standard, plaintiff's ...

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